A cow for her watch


A watch was a must for a school teacher, so Laura Jordan bought one–a gold Elgin with flowers engraved in the case, front and back.

The oldest daughter of a rural businessman and preacher (Church of Jesus Called Sharon of Regular Predestinarian Baptists, according to his obituary), she began teaching country school in Guthrie County, Iowa, about 1887.

But a photograph of her with her mother and three younger sisters, Laura is the only sister not wearing a watch. Cora has hers on a chain. Lottie and Floy wear watches pinned to their bodices. Emelia Ann, their mother has a long chain. Does it hold a reading glass, or Laura’s watch?

You see, when Laura married Sherd Goff in 1890, she could no longer teach school. And she needed a cow more than she needed a watch. Laura’s father made a deal with his oldest child: a cow for the watch.

By 1905, when the photo was taken, after fifteen years of marriage, Laura already lived in twelve different places, including three states, and had nine children. And because of the deaths of the children born right after Laura, her sisters are much younger.

When Laura’s mother died in 1914, her father gave the gold watch back to his oldest daughter.

Forty-eight years later, when Laura died, the watch was left her her oldest daughter, Leora.

Leora gave the watch to her oldest daughter, Doris. My mother.

As the fourth generation in this line of oldest daughters, I would enjoy caring for the gold watch my great grandmother traded over a hundred years ago for a cow.

But that’s another story. Mom made me choose. I chose her baby locket. My younger sister owns the precious watch.



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